NEW YORK — While change at small businesses can come in a variety of forms, owners can improve their chances of success by being strategic and empathic with staffers.
Denise Rousseau, a professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and Tepper School of Business, offers some basics that she calls Change Management 101. First, trust staffers to do what’s needed. Don’t micromanage them.
“The more autonomy employees have, the easier change will be for them,” Rousseau says.
And, Rousseau says, give staffers as much information as possible.
“People are your change agents,” she says. “They’re going to be engaged in it, and they need to have some understanding of the context” of the change.
Here are change management strategies some owners have used:
— Start with a plan, but also run it past an adviser like a management or human-resources consultant. When George Johnson wanted to retire from the Detroit accounting firm that bears his name, he brought in Anthony McCree as managing director. Johnson gradually decreased his involvement in the firm over several years. The transition went well, but Johnson and McCree decided to seek advice quarterly from a consultant. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t missing anything,” McCree says.
— Talk to staffers one-on-one about how they’ll be affected. When Dave Cyphers moved his advertising firm, The Cyphers Agency, 10 miles (16 kilometers) away to Crofton, Maryland, he talked to each employee about the impact the move would have on their commutes. He also mapped out the best routes they could take.
— Don’t hide or sugar-coat bad news. After British voters decided their country should leave the European Union, many small companies saw clients pull back on projects. Monica Parker and Julian Pollitt, owners of Hatch Analytics, a small business in London, told their staff the future looked uncertain. But the company survived, and “our team said they felt so honored to be included in not just the good news, but the bad,” Parker says.
— When a company is sold, having the outgoing and incoming owners overlap can help employees adjust to the new boss. Trent Peneston joined the Fish Window Cleaning franchise in Houston as general manager, and after a transition period, the previous owner retired. “We thought that would help with any anxiety. And it worked out,” Peneston says.